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New Podcast Features Dr. Kristen Ghodsee

ghodsee head shotListen to the latest podcast, featuring Anthropology News contributing editor, Dr. Kristen Ghodsee (Bowdoin College).

Kristen Ghodsee earned her Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley and is the Director and John S. Osterweis Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College.  She is currently the President-elect of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.  She is the author of The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism and Postsocialism on the Black Sea (Duke University Press, 2005), Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria (Princeton University Press, 2009), Lost In Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Socialism (Duke University Press, 2011), and numerous articles on gender, nostalgia, and Eastern Europe.  She is also the co-author of Professor Mommy: Finding Work/Family Balance in Academia (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011).  Her fifth book, The Left Side of History: Communism, Idealism and Remembering World War II, is forthcoming with Duke University Press in 2015.

Ghodsee is the recipient of fellowships from the National Science Foundation, Fulbright, NCEEER, IREX and ACLS, and has been awarded internationally competitive residential research fellowships at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC; the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey; the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Study (FRIAS) in Germany.  

In 2012, she was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Anthropology and Cultural Studies.  

Denver Museum to Return Totems to Kenyan Museum

Have you read the article featuring AAA members, Chip Colwell-Chanhaphonh (Denver Museum of Nature and Science), Linda Giles (Illinois Wesleyan U), Stephen Nash (Denver Museum of Nature and Science) and Monica Udvardy (U Kentucky), regarding the return of the totems to the National Museums of Kenya?

Here’s an excerpt:

Now, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science says it has devised a way to return the 30 vigango it received as donations in 1990 from two Hollywood collectors, the actor Gene Hackman and the film producer Art Linson. The approach, museum officials say, balances the institution’s need to safeguard its collection and meet its fiduciary duties to benefactors and the public with the growing imperative to give sanctified objects back to tribal people.

“The process is often complicated, expensive and never straightforward,” said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, the museum’s curator of anthropology. “But just because a museum is not legally required to return cultural property does not mean it lacks an ethical obligation to do so.”

The museum this month will deliver its 30 vigango (pronounced vee-GON-go; the singular form is kigango) to the National Museums of Kenya. Officials there will choose whether to display the objects, hunt through the nation’s hinterlands for their true owners and original sites, or allow them to decay slowly and ceremoniously, as was intended by their consecrators. Whatever they opt to do, Kenyan officials say, sovereignty over the objects should be theirs and not in the hands of foreign museums.  (The details of the transfer are still being negotiated.)

But repatriating them takes far more than addressing a parcel. No federal or international laws prevent Americans from owning the totems, while Kenyan law does not forbid their sale. And the Kenyan government says that finding which village or family consecrated a specific kigango is arduous, given that many were taken more than 30 years ago and that agricultural smallholders in Kenya are often nomadic.

Some 20 institutions in the United States own about 400 of the totems, according to Monica L. Udvardy, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and an expert on Kenyan culture who has studied and tracked vigango for 30 years. She said that Kenyans believe that vigango are invested with divine powers and should never have been removed from their sites and treated as global art commodities. Kenyan officials have made constant pleas to have the objects sent back.

Read the entire article at The New York Times.

Rare Tlingit War Helmet Discovered at Springfield Science Museum

SPRINGFIELD, MA – Stored on a shelf for over 100 hundred years, a rare anthropological treasure was recently discovered in the Springfield Science Museum’s permanent collections. Museum Director David Stier, who has worked in museums collections for almost 30 years, describes the discovery as nothing less than “the find of a lifetime.”

The mystery began to unfold when Museum staffers began to select objects from the over 200,000 items in the Museum’s collections for a new display titled “People of the Northwest Coast.” Dr. Ellen Savulis, the Science Museum’s Curator of Anthropology, was intrigued by one of the items described in collections records as simply an “Aleutian hat.”  The object was relatively large, ornately carved, and made from a single piece of dense wood. Although Dr. Savulis’ main area of expertise is Northeastern United States archaeology, she had the foresight to question whether hats made by the Unangax, the inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands, were typically made from such dense wood. Upon further investigation, Dr. Savulis found that the only type of wooden hat made in the treeless Aleutians is the hunting hat or visor, made from a thin plank of driftwood bent into a lopsided cone.None of this information matched the object she had in front of her.

TlingitHelmet2Dr. Savulis suspected that she had a helmet of some kind, and enlisted the help of Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.  After hearing the description and an extensive viewing of artifact images, Mr. Henrikson responded enthusiastically, “This is a Tlingit war helmet, absolutely, no question!”  He went on to say that “it’s very rare – there are less than 100 Tlingit war helmets in existence that we know of. I’ve been studying them for over 20 years and I’m sure I’ve seen most of them.”

Museum records show that the artifact was accepted into collections sometime after 1899, the year that the Springfield Science Museum (formerly the Museum of Natural History) moved into its own building at the Quadrangle.  The source of the artifact was not known, and it carried the simple label “Aleutian hat.” Having limited experience with cultural materials, museum specialist Albertus Lovejoy Dakin accepted the accuracy of the object’s label and entered it as such in the collection records. Some 40 years later the artifact received a permanent museum collection number from museum director Leo D. Otis, who still had no reason to dispute the “Aleutian hat” claim. There the artifact remained in its spot in the permanent collections, carefully preserved and unheralded, waiting to be found.

According to Mr. Henrikson, we now know that the object is indeed a war helmet from the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska.  The style of the carving and decoration on the helmet (probably the emblem of a clan) dates it to the mid-19th century or earlier. With the mass importation of firearms to the region in the mid-1800’s, this sort of body armor became relegated to ceremonial uses. Today, a few helmets are still brought out at ceremonial gatherings, such as potlatches, to commemorate prominent events and honor past clan elders.  Because they are associated with combat, the helmets are not actually worn on the head during such peaceful gatherings, but are instead held in hand or perhaps held over the head of someone needing spiritual support.

Henrikson estimates that there are approximately 95 war helmets in existence today, mostly in large museum collections. Many of these were collected by Russian explorers on the battlefield following clashes with the Tlingit. The largest collection of Tlingit armor is at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology in St. Petersburg.

Beginning as protection for Tlingit warriors in battle, war helmets today serve the Tlingit as healing reminders of their rich and ancient history.  A glimpse of this rich history can be seen starting Thursday, December 26, when the helmet will be placed on display for the first time since arriving in Springfield over a century ago.

AAA Encourages U.S. House Representative to Terminate Human Terrain System

In a letter, AAA’s new President, Dr. Monica Heller encourages and supports the efforts by U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter to terminate the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). AAA has been a long-time opponent to HTS. The program embeds social scientists with combat units.

We are especially encouraged to see it more widely acknowledged by Members of Congress that the HTS Program’s shortcomings are not simply ones of poor execution, but of misguided mission, inappropriate staffing, and lack of recognized need. It is impossible to do high-quality, professionally responsible social science research at gunpoint, and reports submitted to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) suggest that the program does not make a significant contribution to the counterinsurgency effort.

As the AAA has pointed out for several years, military leaders ought to have been the first to acknowledge that you cannot expect people to tell complete strangers anything resembling the “truth” in times of conflict. And social scientists have a professional responsibility to point this out. Social scientists also have the professional responsibility to do no harm to the persons and communities involved in their studies, and to give informed consent, without coercion, to those who participate in their studies. The circumstances under which the HTS Program operates compromise the quality and integrity of the research it purports to carry out, and work at cross-purposes with the overall mission to reduce armed conflict.

The AAA, with more than 12,000 members, is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the human condition, and to applying this knowledge to tackling the world’s most pressing problems. We feel a responsibility to help improve US government policies through fact-finding, dialogue, and deliberation. More important than the legion of problems HTS has encountered in its planning and execution, it is fundamentally flawed. It is well past time that the HTS program be de-authorized, and we applaud your efforts to end this unproductive, irresponsible activity.

Read the letter and learn more about AAA’s efforts opposing the program.

Call for Papers: IUAES 2014 with JASCA

The Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology (JASCA) invites anthropologists from around the world to our 50th Anniversary Conference to be held jointly with IUAES Inter-Congress 2014.

The conference aims to attract over 250 international delegates to Chiba City in Greater Tokyo. The theme will be The Future with/of Anthropologies. The language of the conference will be English.

The conference will take place from 15th to 18th May 2014.IUAES 2014 Logo

The Call for Papers is now open until January 9, 2014 . Please visit the website to view the list of accepted panels and propose your abstracts directly to specific panels.

All proposals must be made to specific panels via the ‘Propose a paper’ link found beneath the panel abstract on that panel’s webpage. Proposals should consist of:
•a paper title
•authors/co-authors
•a short abstract of fewer than 300 characters
•a long abstract of fewer than 250 words.

Proposals will be marked as pending until the end of the call for papers (9th January).

Join the This is Anthropology Team at the Annual Meeting!

Over 390 anthropologists have joined the AAA’s new public outreach website, www.thisisanthropology.org since it launched in November 2012! Thanks to all of you who already contributed photos and profiles to the website. This is Anthropology is always a work in progress and it is not too late to join. The development team for This Is Anthropology will be at the annual meeting in Chicago with even more new ways for you to participate. We hope you’ll join us at the events below:

Opening Reception

Join us at our booth during the Opening Reception in the Exhibit Hall on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 from 6:15-7:30 PM. In addition to the food and fun of the reception, we will be on hand with This is Anthropology swag (while supplies last!) and we’ll have our cameras rolling to capture some impromptu video interviews.

This is Anthropology Booth

Even if you can’t join us at the reception, stop by our booth in the Exhibit Hall to learn more about the website and how you can be a part of This is Anthropology. It’s never too late to create a profile on the site or to share TIA in your community.

Reaching A Broader Public: The “This Is Anthropology” Project Roundtable

Join Jason Miller and Charlotte Noble on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 from 12:15-1:30 PM in Hilton Conference Room 4M for a roundtable about the This is Anthropology project. After a brief discussion of the origin and goals of the site, we will open the floor for comments, feedback and a brainstorming of ideas for how to disseminate anthropology to a broader public.

Video Project

Finally, be on the look out for our roving camera crew during the meeting. We’re looking for anthropologists to answer one of five questions about anthropology on camera. The footage will be used to create short videos about what anthropology is, anthropological skills and careers and how to become an anthropologist.

Have further questions? Contact the TIA team at thisisanthropology@aaanet.org or participate in our conversations at #thisisanthro on Twitter!

Popular Anthropology: Buttering Up Humanity

Today’s guest blog post is by Erin B. Taylor (ICS-UL) of PopAnth.

Some years ago, when I was working at The University of Sydney, a colleague of mine stopped me in the corridor to complain. “Nobody listens to anthropologists,” she lamented, “We have so many interesting things to say about the world, but people don’t pay any attention.”

I was puzzled. Not because I disagree on either count: I think she’s right that our voice gets subsumed to that of economists, political commentators, and publicists. I also agree that anthropologists can provide a historically-grounded, cross-culturally informed perspective on contemporary events that is of real social value.

My puzzlement, rather, was because to the best of my knowledge, this particular colleague never made any effort to be heard. She published exclusively in academic journals behind paywalls, didn’t do press releases, didn’t write for newspapers, didn’t even blog. Did she really expect that public servants, the media, and people at large would go to the effort of seeking out her and her opinions?

This encounter triggered a personal quest to find out more about the state of public anthropology. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only one. Thomas Hylland Eriksen, in his book Engaging Anthropology, writes that “Anthropology should have changed the world, yet the subject is almost invisible in the public sphere outside the academy” (2006:1). One of my favorite articles on the subject is by Greg Downey who, on his Neuroanthropology blog, argues that anthropology’s difficulties with engaging the public is at least partially a branding problem. He then presents a series of fascinating ideas on how to fix it.

There are plenty of anthropologists who are doing something about it. Anthropologists globally are publishing their work in news venues such as the BBC, the Financial Times, and the Trinidad Guardian. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of us are blogging our thoughts on personal and collective websites, including The Huffington Post and The Conversation. Others are interviewed on radio shows or run community workshops. The California Series in Public Anthropology provides an incentive for authors to write about their engagements with communities and policies. Our brand is looking better since Eriksen published his book in 2006.

One thing I noticed, however, is a lack of ways for anthropologists who would like to write for the public to get started. This is partially because too few academics are aware of what the possibilities are, as the work of their more public-facing colleagues remains largely invisible. There are also relatively few venues in which people can experiment with this kind of writing. Personal blogs are a beginning, but a chronic lack of feedback means that it’s hard to know whether you’re on the right track. And without having a sense of how you’re doing, it can be daunting to submit an article to a newspaper.

PopAnthThis was a major reason why Gawain Lynch, John McCreery and I began the community website PopAnth: Hot Buttered Humanity. We began building the site in July last year, after an exhaustive search turned up exactly zero generalist anthropology websites that are truly written for a popular audience. There are many brilliant blogs out there, but they either focus on narrow topics, or include academic content such as jargon or calls for papers. We deliberately designed PopAnth to cover all branches of anthropology because we wanted to see what kinds of topics would prove popular.

In just over a year since launch, the site has grown surprisingly fast, and last month we had 90,000 unique visitors (bots largely edited out of our analytics). This is a pretty impressive feat for a non-profit website that relies on a small crew of committed editors. I’m particularly happy that authors have been courageous enough to send us off-beat stories that otherwise might never have seen the light of day. Our articles have covered topics as diverse as the history of Rastafarianism in Jamaica, land use rights among footballers in Trinidad, metal theft in the United Kingdom, drug markets in Colombia, consumer freedom in Germany, and angry tourists in Madagascar.

What makes PopAnth work? In my opinion, it’s the effort we put in to making popular anthropology visible. We don’t just promote ourselves, we use our website and social media to promote popular anthropology wherever it is published: newspapers, blogs, books, TED talks, and so on. This increases our audience base and helps make anthropology a household name.

Crucially, we provide a mentoring service to new public writers, helping them polish their articles for PopAnth and gain confidence to submit their work to other venues. We also act as a hub connecting new popular authors to old hands. Because we publish on merit, not qualifications, our authors are just as likely to be undergraduates as they are to have regular columns in The Huffington Post or Psychology Today. This means that up-and-coming authors who aren’t sure where to publish can gain inspiration from seeing what their colleagues are doing.

What’s the next step in getting public anthropology out there? My feeling is that cross-promotion will help us all build our audiences and contributor bases. To this end, I’ve begun talking with people people from other groups, such as Savage Minds, DANG, Ethnography Matters, the Society for Visual Anthropology, and others about how we can best work together to stay in communication and build collaborations. I’d like to invite everyone to join the conversation in the PopAnth group at the Open Anthropology Cooperative. And, of course, if you want to write for PopAnth, you can check out our Contributions page. The more we write for the public, the more the public will be able to listen.

There Is Work To Do

Today’s blog post is written by AAA Executive Director, Dr. Edward Liebow (eliebow@aaanet.org).

The US government’s partial shut-down has ended, and anthropologists here in the States have some work to do. The federal government activities that were put on hold over the past 16 days furloughed employees, delayed federal benefits, shuttered museums and national parks, interrupted research, put cultural resources at risk, and created economic hardships in many communities. During this partial-shutdown, the AAA office issued blog posts with updates about the shutdown, invited members to tell their stories about how they were affected; we made visits to Capitol Hill where we talked about short- and long-term effects on issues of central interest to anthropologists, and we made contingency plans to refund affected federal workers after the official annual meeting refund date.

The agreement reached last night funds the government through January 15, suspends the debt limit until February 7, and calls for formal negotiations to determine a long-term budget plan by December 13. In other words, unless Congress and the President can work out a lasting plan, the US could find itself back in this same position again in just a few months.

I may be new to Washington, but not to policy-making. I hope that from my new front-row seat, I am able to watch the country’s elected leaders put the public interest first and find an enduring budget solution that embodies a long-term commitment to promoting environmental sustainability, education and research, health and social justice, while protecting cultural resources and human rights. This is the commitment the public deserves.

Some have speculated that last night’s legislative outcomes will further compel the current administration’s political opponents to renew their full frontal attacks on affordable health care for all, and on such pressing long-term structural issues as immigration reform, global environmental change, and the unevenly distributed problems in crumbling public infrastructure.

For anthropologists in the US, the immediate task ahead is to make sure that this new round of budget negotiations does not become the forum for airing petty grievances about public support for social science education and research. This affects classroom enrollments. It affects museum attendance. Also affected is the growth of knowledge by which we advance human understanding, and apply this understanding to tackling the world’s most pressing problems. We simply cannot let that happen. I’d like to encourage our US members to make their feelings known to their elected representatives about the importance of anthropologists’ work.

Anthropology Added to Appendix of C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards

C3 Framework for Social StudiesThe National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has released its C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards, which includes as appendices companion documents for anthropology, sociology, and psychology. The AAA Education Task Force and Ad Hoc Anthropology Companion Document Review Committee prepared the Anthropology Companion Document for the C3 Framework, Appendix D (page 77) in the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards (PDF).

This companion document provides an Introduction to the Disciplinary Concepts and Skills of Anthropology, four concepts of the discipline and provides connections to the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards.

According to NCSS:

The C3 Framework was purposefully designed to offer guidance for state social studies standards, not to outline specific content to be delivered. For states utilizing the C3 Framework, the ten themes of the 2010 NCSS National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies:
A Framework for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment will be useful for the process of identifying specific content to be delivered and concepts to be acquired. The four dimensions of the inquiry arc in the C3 Framework correspond well with four sets of learning expectations presented in the National Curriculum
Standards for Social Studies

  • Questions for Exploration
  • Knowledge: what learners need to understand
  • Processes: what learners will be capable of doing
  • Products: how learners demonstrate understanding

Americans and Gun Culture

Today’s guest blog post is by Jessica Cunningham. Ms. Cunningham is a Social Anthropology undergraduate student from Queen’s University Belfast, Ireland. This past summer she has done field research, based in Austin, Texas, on American gun-owners and their attachment to their guns.

Jessica CunninghamA few years ago, I set off with two others on a coast-to-coast road trip across North America. Like all such trips, we were exposed to countless new experiences, yet for me one particular experience stands out. A fairly casual afternoon spent shooting tin cans with some friends in Santa Fe had a surprising effect on me which I can only describe now as visceral. Aware of the widespread use of guns in America, (although growing up my cultural exposure to guns was limited to gangsters and cowboys as seen on TV),  my unexpected reaction to using a gun for the first time, left me wondering just what it is about the gun that holds such sway for so many.

Since then this interest has continued and grown, as has the media coverage surrounding the issue. Now as a social anthropology undergraduate, going into my final year at Queen’s University Belfast with the opportunity to undertake my first fieldwork project as part of my dissertation, it seemed the obvious subject for my research.

Accordingly, this summer I spent two months in Austin, Texas. As an undergraduate this was a completely new challenge for me, particularly since it is also a largely uncharted area within anthropology, so I went in blind so to speak. I wanted to explore and measure the social value of firearms. By using a universally understood value reference, namely money, I asked each participant ‘If I gave you $1 million, would you in return give up your gun rights?’ In almost every case the answer was ‘No’. To what then do these rights equate?

Not having the knowledge to be overly selective, I talked to anyone and everyone in the area connected in any way with guns; including ammunition dealers, skeet, trap  and IDPA shooters (International Defensive Pistol Association), instructors and concealed handgun licensing (CHL) teachers, ranchers, hunters, students and the police, not to mention your average Joe and Josephine doing it for fun. I was completely dependent on people’s good will and openness which I can say I found in abundance. I believe that one factor which played a significant role throughout my research was my apparent ‘otherness’ to the context that I found myself in. I feel that being a relatively young girl from the UK, placed me outside of the lived experience of the gun debate. I was able to present myself as impartial, but willing to learn.

However, I soon realized that not only was I completely ignorant of the ‘gun language’, the technical terminology and even basic types and uses of firearms, but I had also not fully grasped the complex and multifaceted nature of the ‘culture of guns’, namely who uses them and why. Because of this and my obvious time limits, my stay in Texas felt far more akin to a ‘reccy’-style, preliminary research as opposed to a more conclusive academic piece of work.

However, one forcible aspect did emerge from my research, that is the way in which gun ownership is often regarded as being a right as unalienable as free speech or religious freedom. Although I approached the subject under the assumption that gun attachment held deeper implications than is commonly realized, I was surprised by the degree to which some really did hold guns in almost sacred esteem and feel sure that this warrants further attention and research.

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